Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD for Stranger Things Season 3 through Episode 3, called "The Case of the Missing Lifeguard."
For months, all Stranger Things fans had to go on for Season 3 was trailer footage, which teased a bathtub and a lifeguard being dragged down into the depths, but there was no context for what was happening. The episode titles revealed one called "The Case of the Missing Lifeguard," so clearly something bad was happening to the lifeguard. Now that the new season has released, viewers finally know what was happening with those unsettling scenes. One Stranger Things star chatted with CinemaBlend about how "terrifying" they were to film.
Francesca Reale, who played Heather the lifeguard, weighed in on the bathtub sequence, which happened after Eleven went into the Void to try and find her. El was suspicious that something had happened to her after she and Max discovered Heather's first aid pouch, blood, and empty bags of ice in Billy's bathtub. Although Max suggested there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for Heather's disappearance and the suspicious discoveries in Billy's bathroom, El used her powers to search for Heather, and what she found was truly frightening.
Eleven initially only saw the bathtub full of ice, and she was shocked when Heather (still in her red bathing suit) popped up out of the freezing water to beg El to help her. Then Heather was dragged screaming underwater in the tub, which became a deep black abyss, and Heather didn't come back up despite El's attempts to save her.
They were intense scenes just to watch, and Francesca Reale explained that they were pretty intense and scary to film as well. Let's start with what she had to say about the actual bathtub portion of the sequence:
It's so interesting, because people have been asking what was my favorite part of shooting, and that was actually one of my favorite parts but I haven't been able to talk about it. It's such a big spoiler. But we had to do it on two different days and there was this day where it was just me literally in a tub, just drowning myself essentially. It was all these fake silicon ice cubes, and believe me those were like sand and found their new homes literally everywhere on my person. My hair! Everywhere. It was essentially just me and Millie [Bobby Brown] just yelling at each other and me drowning myself. And Millie was such a sport because she had just come back from her knee injury at the time. She was such a sport for being there and actually acting with me instead of using a double, because she knew it would be more helpful for me.
Stranger Things didn't use elaborate special effects or CGI to make it look like Heather was drowning in the bathtub. In fact, it sounds like the only thing that was really fake about filming was that the ice cubes were silicon rather than frozen water.
Well, that and that nobody had been abducted and left to be taken by a giant monster from the Upside Down. How many of us can say that our jobs require us to put on a bright red bathing suit and pretend to drown in a bathtub, with only a quick break to beg for help before drowning again?
The scene as it released on Netflix only features Heather and Eleven as characters, and the shots focused on Heather don't actually show El's face, so Millie Bobby Brown could have used a double and taken time to rest her knee, which she'd injured while Season 3 was filming.
Instead, Francesca Reale explained that Millie Bobby Brown turned up to play Eleven and help Reale's performance. Way to go, Millie Bobby Brown! Both actresses apparently went through a lot to capture these scenes, although at least Reale wasn't in a bathtub filled with real ice.
Filming in the actual bathtub was only half of what it took to nail that horrifying scene in "The Case of the Missing Lifeguard," as there was no way the show could have filmed Heather being dragged to the black depths in just a regular old tub. Francesca Reale went on to explain the other day of shooting for the sequence:
And doing the drowning was actually in a pool with a black bottom, which was terrifying for me because I hate any body of water that has a black bottom. And they had this amazing mechanism that attached to my foot, and whenever I was ready, I would go down underwater and the mechanism would tug me down. And then our beautiful, wonderful, talented director Shawn Levy was like, 'Francesca, it's great, but I need you to hold your arms out and not move them so there are no bubbles. Keep your eyes wide open, as wide open as you can, and scream but not produce any bubbles. I know that's a tough ask, but I need you to try.' It was incredibly hard! But it was one of the most fun stunt-esque things that I've got to do in my career so far. I hope to do more in the future.
Being dragged down toward the bottom of a black pool certainly sounds terrifying, and Francesca Reale had to turn in a performance while doing it! The scene was definitely eerie once it became clear that Heather wasn't just drowning like one would expect after being dragged down. There were no bubbles despite Heather's screams, and her eyes were wide open despite being yanked down through water.
Director and executive producer Shawn Levy, who once weighed in on one Stranger Things character he definitely did not intend to kill off, asked a lot of Francesca Reale, and it definitely paid off. Season 3 was packed with memorable and terrifying sequences, and I think Heather drowning in Eleven's Void vision will go down as one of the most unsettling and lingering. How many Stranger Things fans are going to stick to showers rather than baths for the foreseeable future?
Considering how intense the filming process was for capturing Heather being dragged down into the abyss, I asked Francesca Reale how many takes were needed to nail the perfect shot:
You know, I have no idea. It felt like a thousand, but that's because I also did like an hour of practice on my own. Because I wanted to get used to the mechanics and being in the pool and not being scared of the black bottom. But it felt like a lot. I'm sure at the end of the day, it was only like 10. So fun! I wouldn't have had it any other way, though. If they had tried to get anyone else to do it, I would have been like, 'No! I'm doing this myself. Thank you very much.' It gives me chills even when I watched it. It was freaky.
Practice makes perfect, and I don't think the bathtub sequence could have been any more perfectly creepy to set Eleven on her path to investigating Billy. Poor Heather's last words as herself seem to have been that "Help me!" to Eleven, but she wasn't out of the game just yet. After being "flayed," she and Billy teamed up to take out her parents, and they were only the beginning.
All three seasons of Stranger Things are streaming on Netflix now. If you've already finished the full series and are itching for some analysis, check out Stranger Things Season 3 Ending Explained: What The Post-Credits Sequence Means For Season 4.
Unfortunately, Netflix hasn't officially confirmed a fourth season, but there can be little doubt, and members of the cast recently shared how much longer they think the show should last. Spoiler alert: it's not ending after just three seasons.